Nine months into a relentless effort to spy on Carter Page with the most awesome surveillance tools the U.S. possesses, the FBI had no proof the former Trump adviser had colluded with Russia to hijack the 2016 election.
In fact, the bureau hid from the FISA court the fact that it knew Page was actually a U.S. asset who had helped the CIA and that in a secret recording with an informant he had denied all the core allegations against him with significant proof.
But it wanted to keep spying on its target for another three months. So what did the FBI cough up to the FISA judge to keep up its surveillance and its now-debunked claim that Page might be a Russian agent of influence?
The FBI actually argued that Page's lawful exercise of his First Amendment rights — he was giving media interviews and considering writing a book — might be proof he was carrying out a Russian plot, according to a newly declassified version of the final FISA warrant reviewed by Just the News.
"The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election," the once top-secret FISA application read on page 57.
"The FBI believes that Page may have been instructed by Russian officials to aggressively deny, especially in the media, any Russian involvement with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The FBI believes this approach is important because, from the Russian government's point of view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in front of the American and world medium, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the US electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current US administration.
It added: "The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts."
It offered no proof for such a dramatic allegation. No source. No document. No intercept. Nothing. Just the affirmation "The FBI believes ..."
Kevin Brock, the FBI's former chief of intelligence who helped craft most of the bureau's current human source and spy rules before he retired a decade ago, told Just the News on Thursday that the FISA application's use of unfounded speculation undercut the very requirement that warrants contain verified evidence.
"It is a desperate attempt to keep an investigation, which had no predication in the first place, going with conjecture, speculation and manufactured belief," Brock said in an interview.
The newly declassified document also furnishes another example of how the FBI has slow-walked the disclosure of the most embarrassing aspects of the Russia probe.
Over two years, the FBI has released multiple version of the fourth and final FISA warrant against Page, each time redacting less information, including on Page 57.
In a version given last fall to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the sentences about Page's potential interest in a book and media interviews were left unredacted. But the FBI's unsubstantiated theory that Russia had instructed Page to do so was blacked out, making it impossible for Americans to fully understand what the bureau argued to the court.
Just the News was allowed to review the newly unredacted passage after President Trump, in his final 24 hours in office, ordered the mass declassification of thousands of pages of FBI documents.
The newly declassified documents also provide further insight into how the FBI misled the court concerning what Page told a confidential informant, Stefan Halper, during a surreptitiously recorded conversation in October 2016, before the first of the four FISA warrant requests was even submitted.
The newly declassified version of the fourth FISA stated that Page, during his interaction with Halper, did not offer a direct rebuttal to claims he had met with senior Russians or played a role in changing the GOP platform to make it more favorable to Russia as alleged by another informant, Christopher Steele, the dossier author.
"On or about October 17 2016, Page met with Source #2, which meeting the FBI consensually monitored and recorded," the FISA application read. "According to the FBI's review of the recorded conversation, Source #2 made general inquiries about the media reporting regarding Page's contacts with Russian officials.
"Although Page did not provide any specific details to refute, dispel or clarify the media reporting, he made vague statements that minimized his activities. Page also made general statements about a perceived conspiracy against him mounted by the media," the FBI told the court.
But the transcript of Page's conversation with Halper, obtained by Just the News, shows that Page did in fact directly deny all four of the primary allegations made about him in the Steele dossier that supported the FISA application, including specific denials he had met with two Russian officials named Igor Sechin and Igor Diveychkin.
"The core lie is that I met with these sanctioned Russian officials, several of which I never even met in my entire life, but they said that I met them in July," the FBI transcript quotes Page as telling Halper during the Oct. 17, 2016 interaction at Halper's farm in northern Virginia.
Nothing vague about that denial. Yet that statement to Halper was never acknowledged in the FISA application, even nine months after it happened.
The Justice Department inspector general has concluded that the FBI made numerous mistakes, omissions, and false statements in its FISA applications.
But the newly declassified documents made available by Trump show just how egregious and sweeping the deception was.
They also illustrate how the Bureau portrayed perfectly legal activities by Page — like writing a book or arguing his innocence to the media — as evidence he was a Russian asset when no such proof existed. Instead, the FBI knew Page was a CIA cooperating asset for many years.
Those with direct knowledge of the FBI's failures say the final verdict on whether such deception ultimately was criminal rests with special counsel John Durham. But in the meantime, a senior law enforcement official told Just the News that FBI credibility remains severely damaged by the Russia collusion case.
"The next time we tell a court the FBI assesses or the FBI believes, I wonder who will trust us when you see what was done in these FISAs?" said one official.
That's a good question.